Prasanthi Diary
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The significance of Swami’s Prasadam

Cooking for the thousandsOne of the most time honored practices in Bharatiya culture is the distribution of prasadam after worship or a religious ritual. The word prasadam implies a benediction and normally refers to cooked delicious food that has been consecrated by first offering to God. Partaking of the remnants of this offering is believed to be free of sin, as all beings including plants have life. Partaking of the prasadam in a reverential manner or honoring this prasadam as being God Himself, is also believed to confer great spiritual benefits.

While perhaps this practice is part of the hoary traditions of Bharatiya culture since millennia, it has its resonance in recent times from the following verse of the Bhagavad Gita (3.13):Food stacked in the Womens Canteen

Yajna-sistasinah santo
Mucyante sarva-kilbisaih
Bhunjate te tv agham papa
Ye pacanty atma-karanat

“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sin because they eat food, which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal Crossing the roadsense enjoyment, verily eat only sin”.

So while food is partaken only after offering to God as a sacrifice, emphasis is also placed not only on the correct procurement of materials for the preparation of prasadam (out of money earned in an honest and truthful way) but also on the cooking process. Hence it is stressed that there should not only be personal cleanliness but also mental and emotional cleanliness during theInto Sai Kulwant Hall cooking process. So prasadam preparation is usually done after taking a bath, to the chanting of Vedic hymns or the singing of bhajans, when the mind is totally focused on God. After the offering of the food thus cooked in a sattwic manner to God, it becomes prasadam.

Food in the Ashram is “offered” to Swami by the recitation of the Brahmarpanam prayer, comprising of two verses (4.24 and 15.14) of the Bhagavad Gita, as under:

Brahmarpanam Brahma Havir
Brahmagnou Brahmana hutam
Brahmaiva Tena Gantavyam
Brahma Karma Samadhina

Aham Vaisvanaro Bhutva
Praninam Deham asrita
Pranapana Samayuktah
Pachamy annam Chaturvidham

Right onto the verandah“The whole creation being a gross projection of Brahman, the Cosmic Consciousness itself; so the food too is Brahman, the process of offering it is Brahman, it is being offered to the fire of Brahman. He who thus sees Brahman in action, alone reaches Brahman.

I am the fire of digestion in the stomach of all living entities, and I join with the air of life, incoming and outgoing, to digest the four types of food (solid, liquid, semifluid, and fluid) which they eat”.Ready for distribution

These stanzas from the Bhagavad Gita makes us aware that food is not intended merely to appease the endless demands of our senses of taste and smell. It is a reminder that by thinking of God in every act we do, even the act of taking food becomes an excellent sadhana or spiritual exercise. If we thus remember the Divine and then start eating food, then the food also gets purified and becomes prasadam or a Gift of God.

Following this ancient ritual, prasadam is distributed on a grand scale on two major occasions in the Ashram. (A token prasadam of a sweet or a fruit is also distributed after Swami’s discourse or on major festival days). The first major prasadam distribution is after the 24 hour Akhanda Bhajan (about 2 weeks before Swami’s birthday) in November. The second distribution is after the all night bhajan singing on the occasion of Maha Sivarathri, Serving the devoteesusually in late February or early March. The fast is broken the following morning by the serving of prasadam to the thousands of devotees assembled in Sai Kulwant Hall.

Normally 2 dishes are offered as prasadam. The first is Tamarind rice, a sour dish and the other is usually Sakara pongal (Sweetened rice) or some sweet item. As with everything Swami does, there is an inner significance to this also. The mixing of the sweet and the sour in the same bowl, represents that the opposites of life, the pleasure and pain, the hot and the cold, grief and happiness, etc. are all mixed together. We have to partake of both with equanimity, digest and go beyond.

Or as Swami says, “Pleasure is an interval between two pains. Pain is an interval between two pleasures. Life is like a piece of paper; there is no chance of having only one side of it. Both sides will be there”.

Swami has also said, “The face is pleasure and the feet are sorrow. When a guest comes to your home, you can’t allow only the face inside and keep the feet outside. If you want to welcome, you must welcome both pleasure and pain equally. If you don’t want to welcome, you should reject both”.Honoring the prasadam

The preparation of these two (sweet and sour) items and their timely distribution to the thousands of assembled devotees in Sai Kulwant Hall represent a lot of planning and labor. Procurement of items is done a few weeks prior as the amount of items used are colossal. The cooking starts a few hours before the distribution, and many cooks as well as Seva Dal volunteers are involved. The cooks doing this preparation have to do this in addition to their normal duties of cooking for the canteens, and they do it cheerfully as yet another way of serving the Lord, by serving His devotees.

Once the items have been prepared they are stacked for distribution usually in the Women’s Canteen close to Sai Kulwant Hall. Swami’s students provide the necessary labor for distribution at the completion of the bhajan singing. A human line is formed that snakes its way from the entrance of the canteen to the verandah of Sai Kulwant Hall. The serving vessels containing the food is passed from hand to hand and stacked neatly in rows on and beside the verandah. Adequate quantities are also made available on the women’s side, for distribution by the lady teachers and the girl students of the Institute.

At the conclusion of the bhajan singing the food is blessed by Swami and the distribution starts. The devotees arrange themselves in rows facing each other, leaving a small space for serving in between. They are given bowls or plates made of leaves (hence bio-degradable) in which individual portions are served. Students from the Institute, even young boys from the High School, volunteer to serve their Lord by serving prasadam to the devotees. All the devotees then honor Swami’s prasadam by eating it quietly and with reverence, relishing every tasty morsel while their minds and hearts are still on the Lord, spiritually surcharged by the many hours of bhajan singing.

Heart to Heart captures this unique event for you in pictures, and thus brings for you a small slice of Puttaparthi Ashram life.


Volume - 2 Issue - 5 Radiosai Journal - PSN 2004